From the moment Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency in Venezuela, he formed a very close bond with Cuban President Fidel Castro — one that boosted Cuba’s economy through trade, advanced its health care system and bolstered its military might.
"Venezuela is traveling towards the same sea as the Cuban people, a sea of happiness and of real social justice and peace," Chávez said during a visit to Havana in 1999, the same year he rose to power.
One of the first major ties between the two countries came in 2000, when the two presidents inked an agreement under which Venezuela sent 50,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba at a heavy discount. The shipment was nearly doubled by 2005.
In exchange, Cuba sent thousands of specialists in the fields of education, the arts, sports and medicine to Venezuela.
In 2005, the two countries hammered out a contract to bring tens of thousands of health care workers, including doctors and nurses, to Venezuela and establish them in brand-new health care centers.
Chávez and Castro signed a declaration ripping the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a program supported by the United States as an "expression of a hunger to dominate the region."
Cuba also helped Venezuela free itself from U.S. influences on its military by helping train its soliders in guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency.
In 2007, Chávez signed an agreement with Cuba to embark on a series of technical projects, including the construction of an underwater fiber optics cable.
Venezuelan and Cuban scientists also worked together to improve their countries' food production — spearheading a research project to improve the growing of rice.
Last summer, as The New York Times reported, Chavez announced an agreement with Cuba to create a factory to produce Coppelia ice cream, famous in Cuba for its tropical flavors.
Washington has kept a weary eye on the ongoing cooperation between Venezuela and Cuba with the idea they are trying to dominate the Caribbean economically and militarily. And both sides have fired verbal shots.
President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice slammed Cuba as an “outpost of tyranny.’’ She labeled Chavez a “negative force’’ in Latin America.
Chávez called Bush’s diplomatic efforts "a false democracy of the elite.’’
The friendship between Venezuela and Cuba long predates Castro. Diplomatic ties between the two powers were first established in 1902. In 1913, they agreed to an extradition treaty.
The bond between the two men was often described as a father-son relationship — with Castro was seen as a father figure to Chavez.
"Fidel to me is a father, a comrade, a master of perfect strategy," Chavez said in 2005.
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